The Hispanic Liaison raises thousands of dollars to help DACA applicants pay fees

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SILER CITY — The Hispanic Liaison has raised over $13,000 in just two weeks to help first-time and returning DACA applicants living in Chatham cover their filing fees.

The money, raised both on and offline, will go into the Liaison’s continuous DACA scholarship fund, which was created in 2017 to help DACA beneficiaries pay the $495 application fee to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Applications for partial scholarships are open now on the Liaison's website.

They’ve held DACA fundraisers and received donations periodically over the years, according to the Liaison’s executive director, Ilana Dubester, but this time is different. For the first time, the Liaison’s scholarship fund will be able to help new DACA applicants.

“Before, it was just for renewals because new applicants couldn’t apply,” she said, adding, “Now the big change is that new applicants can apply again.”

In 2017, the Trump administration ended the DACA program, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and later reduced the program’s two-year renewal period to one year. Created in 2012, DACA provides temporary protection from deportation to young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as children. DACA also authorizes beneficiaries to work and drive, but it doesn’t offer a path to citizenship.

Following multi-year litigation against the Trump administration’s decision, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the program last June, and on Dec. 4, a federal judge reinstated it, allowing new applicants to apply for the first time since 2017.

That decision, Dubester said, inspired a fundraiser, which Emilio Vicente — the Liaison’s former advocacy program manager — offered to organize. On Dec. 30, he created a fundraiser via Facebook for the Liaison with an initial goal of $3,000, an amount another donor had promised to match.

It was perfect timing, Dubester said.

“We had a little bit of money left over (in the scholarship fund) that as people applied, we were helping them and hadn’t run out yet,” she said, “but it was getting to the point where we were getting to the bottom of the fund. … Because new applicants also are eligible (now), that will be more people in need.”

In just three days, the fundraiser accumulated $6,880, thanks to a $5,000 donation on Dec. 31. By Jan. 2, the fund was only $2,510 shy of $10,000, its new goal, and as of Friday morning, 86 donors contributed $10,240. The fundraiser ended Thursday.

“It was really an amazing effort,” said Dubester. “Our original goal was $3,000 for the match that we were getting and (donors) just blew it out of the water, which is really incredible. I think it’s also good timing in terms of people getting extra money from the government and sharing that, so that helped as well.”

She said she also thought people had a lot of sympathy for Dreamers — “and rightfully so.”

“I hope you reach your goal for this worthy cause — helping Siler City/Chatham County youth pay the several hundred dollar fee to file for DACA!” one donor, Debbie Leiner Fields, wrote on the fundraiser’s Facebook page. “Not the solution but a good stop gap until we have true, just immigration reform. I remain hopeful.”

To apply for a partial scholarship, DACA youth just need to fill out a Google Form, which will soon be available on the Liaison’s website. Eligible youth must live in one of the four counties the Liaison serves: Chatham, Alamance, Lee or Randolph. Among other things, the form will ask for personal information, like their counties of residence, how applicants heard about the scholarship and how much money applicants can contribute toward their fees.

“And that’s it,” Dubester said. “It’s pretty simple. We don’t ask for proof that they need the help if they’re asking for the help, you know, these are mostly young people, (and) $500 is a lot of money for a lot of people.”

Since funds are limited, Dubester said the Liaison is only offering partial scholarships to serve as many people as they can. She estimated that hundreds of youth — perhaps even “several thousand” — are eligible for DACA across the four counties the Liaison serves, though she recognized not all would need help paying the filing fees.

“Most recently, we had a maximum contribution on our part of $300,” she said. “And right now, we are basically just asking what they can contribute. And so … they give their money to us, and we put it back into the DACA fund, so that we can help more people.”

Once approved, applicants must have their DACA forms completed and ready to be mailed before the Liaison will cut them a check, which applicants will send themselves to USCIS.

“So we review their DACA application, and they come to the office to pick up the check,” Dubester said. “And they mail it together with their DACA application. … There’s not much wait as long as the application is ready.”

As of Monday, they’ve awarded two scholarships this year, received two new applications and have one scholarship “in transit.” Maria Gomez Flores, the Liaison’s Advocacy and Civic Engagement Program Manager, is managing the program. For any questions, applicants can call (919) 742-1448 and ask for Gomez Flores or email her at maria@evhnc.org. The Liaison also helps refer applicants to attorneys who can help them fill out the DACA forms.

“Don’t let this opportunity pass,” Dubester said. “If you’re eligible for DACA, this is the time to do it. Apply as soon as you can and go for it.”

Once funds run out, Dubester said that they’ll “beat the bushes again” for money, but she ultimately hopes to see DACA beneficiaries become U.S. citizens and residents.

“We’ll see what happens now with the new Congress and new president if this can be the year that we can actually pass the DREAM Act, as opposed to just having DACA,” she said, adding, “So many of us work with DACA (recipients) — two of my staff members are DACA — and there’s so many youth contributing in so many different fields who have DACA. They’re really an important part of our society.”

This article has been updated Friday morning to reflect the final amount Emilio Vicente's DACA fundraiser collected for the Hispanic Liaison. Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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